A conversation with Geshe Gelek on finding a spiritual teacher

Geshe Gelek, the resident teacher at the FPMT Kadampa Center in North Carolina, will be teaching at our Center March 7 – 8. He will be teaching the first class in the Discovering Buddhism module “The Spiritual Teacher”. The question of how to find and relate to a spiritual teacher is very complex particularly for Westerners. Often we don’t have the opportunity to fully investigate a teacher’s qualities because the teacher may only be passing through town on a brief visit. When we see that a high lama is offering an initiation, we may go just trusting that the sponsors have done their research and that the teacher is fully qualified. By taking the initiation, however, we are committing ourselves to seeing the teacher as our guru for the rest of our lives. So what is the nature of this relationship? How do we judge if a teacher is qualified? How do we pay service to the teacher? These are some of the questions that we’ll explore in “The Spiritual Teacher”.

Geshe Gelek’s friendly smile and big laugh resonate with kindness and compassion. It’s not surprising that many people have formally requested that he serve as their guru! He’s been teaching at Kadampa for the past eight years, but he humbly considers himself a Dharma friend — not a teacher. He emphasizes the importance of first clearly understanding our own motivation — what is the purpose of our Dharma practice, and why are we seeking a spiritual teacher? Is it to free ourselves from suffering in this life? To truly free others from samsara? We might think that a teacher can miraculously transfer his Enlightened mind to us with no effort on our part. Or, our Dharma practice and teacher might become solid objects that we fixate on and jealously guard. Instead of cultivating love and kindness for others, if our motivation is impure, we poison the results. We might barricade ourselves behind the closed door of our meditation room, hide behind the robes of our teachers.

A spiritual teacher serves two functions. First, he/she reveals the path to Enlightenment by giving accurate, clear Dharma teachings in accordance with the students’ needs. Second, the teacher embodies the qualities of the Buddha and through his/her actions of body, speech and mind shows great kindness and consideration for the students. Geshe Gelek remembers teachers who generously took care of his physical and material needs during his many years studying at Sera Je monastery as well as those who patiently helped him resolve problems and offered words of encouragement. He gives the example of Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche as someone who has unlimited energy and devotion for the Dharma. He is practicing Dharma 24/7 — tirelessly helping others. How come we don’t have that energy? We have the same physical body and for many of us, our material needs are met. Seeing Lama Zopa gives us hope that we too can transform our minds — we witness our own spiritual potential.

Geshe Gelek states that the most important thing to check is a teacher’s ethical conduct. As Lama Tsongkhapa and many great masters taught, ethical conduct is the foundation of all good qualities and one of the Six Perfections. No matter how well a teacher speaks, no matter how engaging a teacher he is, or how many titles he has — abbot, ex-abbot, etc. we need to observe the teacher’s ethical conduct. What if we enter into a student-teacher relationship only to find out later that the teacher is not behaving ethically, has broken the vows, has disrobed? This is a complex situation that may cause confusion and a loss of faith in the Dharma. By taking our time and really getting to know a teacher beforehand, we can avoid this situation.

Also, Geshe Gelek cautions us that we need to watch our own minds carefully. Teachers are human beings, too. If we’re constantly finding fault in a teacher, that’s a mistake arising in our own minds. Where is it coming from? Why? We need to ask ourselves these questions. Once we learn to regard our spiritual teacher as the Buddha and fully entrust ourselves to him, then our spiritual qualities will certainly blossom, and we’ve stepped forward on the path to Enlightenment.

“The most important thing that determines how quickly you reach enlightenment how strongly you need, rely upon and devote yourself to your guru―the stronger, the quicker.” ~ Lama Zopa Rinpoche

~ Posted by Dina Li based on a conversation with Ven Geshe Gelek


4 thoughts on “A conversation with Geshe Gelek on finding a spiritual teacher

  1. To treat my neighbor as I would be treated is easy to say , harder to do and is the essence of what I want to do and to be.




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